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Pope Francis Is Looking For Different Church

By Christoph Strack (DW) - The pope is striving for a different kind of Catholic Church — one that commits to ecology and the poor. But he is reluctant to institute the reforms hoped for in Europe and North America.

“Querida Amazonia” (Beloved Amazon), the Catholic Church’s Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on the Amazon region, which Pope Francis issued Tuesday, is a powerful text — and a big disappointment. The pope has quelled hopes of limited loopholes to address the shortage of priests in the Amazon region. He rejects the “clericalization of women” and the ordination of deaconesses, and advocates instead for other opportunities for women to demonstrate “the tender strength of Mary.”

 

Deutsche Welle: Strack, Christoph — a Portrait (DW/B. Geilert)DW’s Christoph Strack

Francis also does not address the calls for admitting married men into the priesthood in the Amazon region — which would not violate formal Catholic dogma — but instead calls for dispatching missionaries from other countries.

Read more: Pope Francis urges unity on first Romania trip

“Querida Amazonia” is not only sobering for many women and other advocates of church reform: It also leaves unaddressed suggestions made at the October 2019 Amazon synod that bishops in Rome had agreed to with a two-thirds majority.

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Church’s ‘moral authority’

The document is powerful in the passages in which Francis addresses the Amazon region’s “ecological crisis,” takes up the “cry of the Earth” and calls for the Catholic Church to be an “option for the poorest.” This is where Francis puts the Vatican on the side of the indigenous peoples of the Amazon — where he takes on the crimes of colonialism, the exploitation of the rainforests, the threat to natural resources.

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For Catholics who had hoped for reforms, “Querida Amazonia” is disappointing. Cardinals and theologians have uttered words of consolation since the document was published at noon in Rome on Wednesday, declaring that the church’s doors are not closed to reforms and that Francis has strengthened the “moral authority” of the final document of October’s Synod of Bishops for the Pan-Amazon Region.

Read more: Ex-Pope Benedict blames hippies for clerical sex abuse

That’s all well and good. But the bishops and the pope seem to handle delicate topics like hot potatoes. Unmentioned is the term “viri probati,” for older married men who could be ordained as priests. The term “deaconess” is also missing. Instead, Francis affirms that there are parish groups in the Amazon that, thanks to committed women, “sometimes existed for decades” without priests.

Francis presents himself as a different kind of pope. He has approached the role like a nice village priest would: wise like a Jesuit. But, even after seven years in the role, he appears hesitant to take responsibility for big decisions. The hugger, the encourager, the pastor, the comforter, the mild man — he feels more comfortable with these roles than that of being the person responsible for the development of the church’s teachings.

Read more: A synod that could make history

“The church has stood still for 200 years,” Francis said just before Christmas. “Why does it not move? Are we afraid?”

Soon, we will be looking at 201 years.

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